Led by prayer and driven by faith, Lexington church breaks ground
By Jessica Brodie
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LEXINGTON—Work is moving along on what is thought to be the largest capital campaign in the South Carolina United Methodist Conference—and it’s all driven by prayer and an unwavering faith that God is at the wheel.
Workers broke ground this winter on a new $16.4 million expansion at Mount Horeb United Methodist Church, featuring a multipurpose worship area, plus repurposing of the existing church gym into a two-story youth facility.
“All together it’s more than 82,000 square feet,” said senior pastor the Rev. Jeff Kersey about what the church’s Above and Beyond campaign, listing the numerous features the new campus will have to serve what he and the congregation call “future members”: a 67,303-square-foot new dual-purpose building for the church’s thriving contemporary services, with space for leisure ministry (like Upward Bound basketball and fitness classes) plus a kitchen for fellowship meal events; a dedicated, more protected children’s ministry area in that same new building to house nursery through sixth graders, including a massive vacation Bible school outreach that attracts more than 2,000 kids each summer; the 15,293-square-foot two-story repurposed space in the existing gym for the congregation’s thriving youth program; and more.
Traditional worship will remain in the existing sanctuary. The existing youth room, situated in the church’s original chapel, will eventually return to a small worship space for intimate weddings and services. The project will also double the church’s parking capacity and enable them to accommodate 5,000 people over five worship services each weekend—more than double their current attendance.
“I think it’s a ray of hope when a lot of churches are struggling,” said Kevin Connelly, Building Committee co-chair, noting that the project will enable Mount Horeb’s significant programming lineup to expand for new members who aren't even on their radar. Not only will it allow them to grow their Upward basketball program, which he said has been maxed out for many years because of space limitations, but it will also provide more space for concerts, conferences and other events, with a first-rate audio-visual package and a dedicated facility to do more for God in their contemporary services, which he said is growing in “leaps and bounds.”
Connelly said so much of Mount Horeb’s growth over the years is attributed to their thriving children’s program, what he calls “our backbone and roots,” yet they’ve somehow managed to fit all that programming into whatever space was available. Now, he said, they will have the space they need and so much more for families who might not even live in the area yet.
The project will now cost 37 percent more than the church initially expected, but that doesn’t seem to be worrying anyone.
Their goal originally was to raise $6 million (half of the then-projected $12 million construction costs), but costs came in higher than expected and now rest at $16.4 million. Thanks to prayer and what Kersey said is an unflinching willingness to step out on faith, the church has pledged a whopping $10.8 million toward the Above and Beyond campaign.
Kersey said the initial $6 million in pledges wasn’t unrealistic; over the last 13-14 years, he said, members of Mount Horeb have given almost $13 million beyond the church’s regular operating budget toward facility, improvements, property and missions.
Still, that much money is a leap for any church, so Kersey and his leadership team read Mark Batterson’s book “The Circle Maker” together.
“In reading that book, we circled $6 million in prayer, asking God to provide what would be needed,” Kersey said.
God delivered not $6 million but $9.4 million in pledges—and that was when the project was expected to cost far less. When the final cost came in at $16.4 million, several families in the church stepped up and pledged an additional $1.4 million, bringing Mount Horeb to their current $10.8 million and counting.
“It’s certainly a God thing,” Kersey said.
When Kersey shared Mount Horeb’s story with Batterson, who was the keynote speaker at the Large Church Initiative last year, Batterson told Kersey that God always shows up, but sometimes, God shows off, too.
“We took that $9.4 million as a sign of God showing off—it was kind of cool!” Kersey said.
Gerry Carter, Mount Horeb’s lay leader who led the Above and Beyond prayer effort, said teams of members were involved from the start, actively praying that God would have His hand on everything as they went through the project. Carter said the huge pledge support was a total affirmation that God wanted this done.
“In this case, that was God saying, ‘Yes, that's a project I endorse and I want to go forward with it,’” Carter said, noting he, too, thinks God was showing out, not just showing up.
He thinks the church’s real commitment to making the expansion prayer-driven, with God in the lead, made the difference. After all, he said, their goal is to see the kingdom grow, which can only happen if you open up and let God work.
“I don't think you can undertake any project like that without knowing God’s behind it,” Carter said. “If you try to do yourself, you’ll fail, but if God’s behind it, then you’ll be successful.”
Kersey said the church has a weekly 70-man-strong prayer group that has gotten together every Friday morning for the last 20 years to pray for the church and its ministries. That group, too, has been fervently praying for God’s guidance in the expansion, walking the property and lifting up the idea to the Lord, which Kersey said is a huge part of the project’s success. After all, he said, when they first started prayer-walking the property, Mount Horeb had just four acres; now they have about 70 acres.
“We joke that when our men start prayer-walking, our neighbors get nervous,” Kersey said, laughing. “But it’s the truth—people say, ‘How’d you do all that?’ Well, before we do anything, we pray. We seek God’s guidance, make sure we’re doing what He wants.”
That notion of doing what God wants is behind everything the church does. Kersey and others say they have a vision to not only reach the community but reach beyond the community, with a focus on reaching those who don’t yet know God.
“God has called us to be a part of the Great Commission and provide space for those who haven’t arrived yet, and once our people stopped seeing church was primarily for them but rather primarily for the people who hadn’t gotten there yet, they were willing to build and grow the ministries to reach more people,” Kersey said.
Reaching out to the future
During the Above and Beyond campaign, they drew often from the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15), where Jesus showed that, like the shepherd who had 99 sheep in the fold but goes out looking for that one lost sheep, so, too, should the church be focused less on those within their doors and more on those who need to be reached.
That’s what is truly at the heart of the expansion—reaching those who have not yet arrived at Mount Horeb, but who undoubtedly will.
Twenty-one years ago, the church had an average of 80 people in worship and 300 members. Today they have 3,600 members and growing, from more than 30 zip codes across the Midlands, thanks to the power of prayer and a commitment to grow for God’s future, not their present.
“Fortunately we have a growing problem,” quipped Tom Fitts, co-chair of the church’s Building Committee. “We’re having to build this building because of that problem! And our goal is we can’t stop until everybody has been reached for Christ. That’s the philosophy of our church.”
Fitts said key to their campaign was that they didn’t ask people for money. They just asked them to read Scripture and talk to God about what He wanted them to do.
Even though Mount Horeb had already grown so much over the years, Fitts said the Above and Beyond campaign “really transformed our church.”
“We thought we knew what we wanted and what God wanted, but we were thinking too small. The price of building more than we wanted it to be, but God made up for that by giving us the resources,” Fitts said. “It was almost like we were trying to hold God back!”
Now, Fitts said, “We’re doing what God wants,” and that feels good.
After all, Kersey said, Scripture gives numerous examples of God showing people they’re thinking too small or looking in the wrong places, only to be shown the direction God wants.
“When Jesus told the disciples, when they caught no fish, ‘Put your net down in the other side of the boat,’ they couldn’t contain the catch. As we’ve tried to be faithful to what God’s called us to do, we’ve had a hard time containing the catch,” Kersey said.
With the new expansion, they hope they can “catch” even more—and serve that catch better for the Kingdom’s sake.
Jumper Carter Sease is the architectural team, along with CDH Partners out of Atlanta. MB Kahn is contractor. As of press time, crews were in the midst of getting the site work down and a building pad in place, with a goal to fast-track work through the spring. They will begin on the gym repurposing in the summer, after VBS.
The project should be complete by June 2016.